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Women's ice hockey in Afghanistan- time to drop the puck

In the winter of 2016 /17, the NGO Free to Run started a very unique project in Bamyan, a town located in the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains, in Afghanistan.
First taste of hockey for girls in Bamyan, Afghanistan.
First taste of hockey for girls in Bamyan, Afghanistan.

In the winter of 2016 /17, the NGO Free to Run started a very unique project in Bamyan, a town located in the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains, in Afghanistan. In partnership with the Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan and the Conservation Organization for Afghan Mountain Areas (COAM), they facilitated the construction of a new ice skating rink, the very first one in all of Afghanistan.

International ice skating coach, Britt Das, was flown into the country for a few weeks in February so Afghan participants could experience the joys of ice-skating. The project was aimed at young women (ages 10 to 25) from the region, but participants from other regions were also flown in to take part in a special Winter Sports Week.

“The local girls were more comfortable with skating,” said Taylor Smith, Free to Run's Country Programme Manager in Afghanistan, “maybe because they grew up in a colder region and could ski already, so they were a bit more fearless. The girls from other provinces had not seen much snow or experienced sports, and were more hesitant. One was scared about falling through the ice, not realizing that it was only 10 cm deep.”

A big hurdle that young women in the Afghanistan program had to overcome was the opposition from the community, as well as conservative families who were not always comfortable with their daughters participating in sports.

“That's why we focus on women,” explained Smith. “Although apprehensive at first, the families were relatively open to allowing their daughters to participate in ice skating lessons because we’d already built that relationship and trust with them.”

One young woman from the program said, “For me, ice skating was amazing because when I started skating, I was wondering, 'How is it possible to stand on a small blade and keep our balance?' It's another reason we can have confidence; if I can stand on ice with a blade, then anything is possible.”

I had met Smith in the fall of 2016 when I had run the second Marathon of Afghanistan in Bamyan and with the success of the ice skating initiative, Taylor approached me to see if I would fundraise for the re-installation of the ice rink and support the Winter Sports Week in 2017/18. My Annual December 31st Run/Walk fundraiser has been going since 2010 and last year we supported the first kayak and camping expedition for Afghan women and girls to the Panjshir valley.

So, on Dec. 31 2017, the Eighth Annual Run / Walk took place at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sport Centre. The temperature hit -48C and a total of 60 hardy souls came out that day and ran or walked distances of two kilometres up to 50 km. In total more than $6,000 was raised and the ice rink and Winter Sports Week became a reality.

In early March, Smith sent me an email and told me that re-installation of the ice rink and Winter Sports Week had been a huge success. The coach they had hired not only was an ice skating instructor, but also had 16 years of experience in ice hockey. He donated sticks and pucks and introduced hockey basics and puck handling on the ice.

“Although we weren't able to get up to the skill level to play ice hockey- we were able to teach a lot of the basics through street hockey sessions. Given how much the girls LOVED the game, I'm confident they'll be able to play next year. We also now have 8 hockey sticks to practice with in the spring/summer as well!” said Smith.

So there you have it. The women and girls in Bamyan, Afghanistan have eight hockey sticks. I think I know what my 2018, Ninth Annual December 31st Run/Walk will be fund raising for.

If you want to watch the women and girls participate in the Winter Sports Week then go to: https://vimeo.com/262639823 “.

© 2018 Martin Parnell

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